In 1987 the Pyramid Group came to Lanesborough with a desire to build a mall.
At the time, Pyramid was in competition with two other developers to build a mall in Berkshire County. The first developer to break ground was going to be the new Berkshire Mall. A special town meeting was held in Lanesborough, and people were very receptive to a mall being built in town. Malls were being welcomed everywhere then.
Unfortunately, there were numerous problems associated with the construction of the mall, the most significant being access to the mall from Route 7. There were only two potential accesses to the mall site, Summer Street in Lanesborough and Crane Ave. in Pittsfield. Both of these roads were congested residential roads and adding the expected new traffic was undesirable. Pyramid had no choice but to build a driveway from Route 7 to the mall. The original entrance designed into the mall was a direct route to where JC Penny's was located.
Pyramid purchased land from the Baker and Petricca families and started construction on its driveway. Although Pyramid had already built a bridge over Partridge Road in Lanesborough, construction was halted when it did not meet with Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protections approval. Not only did the road need to be realigned to the east across additional property owned by Petricca, but the bridge and roadway already built had to be removed. Pyramid needed to purchase more land but could not raise the money to do so and most banks in 1989 had stopped commercial lending because of a nation-wide recession.
Under the circumstances, Pyramid had no choice but to come to the Town of Lanesborough for assistance. They asked the town to take 5 acres of the property needed by eminent domain. They also asked the town to obtain a bond to fund the construction of the road.
Without both actions the Berkshire Mall would not have been completed.
A Deal is Done
Pyramid sat down with a town committee and the selectmen at the time; Raymond Hospot, Donald Sheldon and William DiLego, to set up guidelines to assure that Pyramid would pay for the bond, not the Town of Lanesborough, and to accomplish what was needed for eminent domain. Those meetings resulted in agreements to provide financing for Pyramid to complete the construction of the road and bridge over Partridge Road. Funding would be in the form of a bond for $10,000,000 with interest of 9.7% for 25 years with the first five years at interest only.
It was also agreed to set up a governing body in the form of a road district. This was because the bond was to be in the district’s name and the district was responsible. The Baker Hill Road District was created through a home rule petition approved by the Town of Lanesborough at a town meeting in 1989, and approved by the Legislature in April 27, 1989.
One of the features of the Baker Hill Road District was taxing authority. Pyramid’s payments for the construction of the connector road and the bond payment were incorporated into the budget for the newly created district as tax revenues.
In total, the district was charged to oversee the maintenance of the road as a public way, the timely payment of the bond and ensure that the Berkshire Mall met all of its obligations to the community regardless of property ownership. The Baker Hill Road District was in fact, insurance for the Town that no matter who owned the mall the bond would be paid for by the property owner and not the Town of Lanesborough. There were times the mall did not pay its taxes in a timely fashion and the district made the bond payment from its stabilization fund.
Through the taxes paid by Pyramid to the district, the district made the bond payments of $28,657,950.00 before the bond was retired on 7/1/2014.
Baker Hill and Economic Development Initiatives
In 2009, the Baker Hill Road District was instrumental in securing federal stimulus money to complete a full-depth reconstruction of the entire road, including better access to the mall ring road. The road district attended Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) and Technical Assistance Collaborative (TAC) meetings, filed applications, met with government agencies and officials to secure a $10,000,000 grant from the American Recovery and Redevelopment Act of 2009 (ARRA).
There was no cost to the town, and the rebuilt road added significant new value to the property at Berkshire Mall.
There was a lot of competition by municipalities for this stimulus money, priority was given to projects that were shovel ready. Without the dedication of the Baker Hill Road District that grant may not have happened. This is a good example of the district working with the Berkshire Mall and the Town of Lanesborough to the best interests of all. The grant was awarded because the road district was able to demonstrate the significant economic value it would create by adding access and stability to the flow of traffic passing by and into the Berkshire Mall. It was truly a significant economic development achievement for the Baker Hill Road District and the Town of Lanesborough.
In 2017, and again in March of 2018, the Baker Hill Road District took action to be proactive about the issues for the future use of the failing Berkshire Mall.
At the time, it appeared the Berkshire Mall could likely be abandoned. The district contacted Berkshire Regional Planning Commission for guidance. They were advised that a study to determine reuse was a worthwhile endeavor and would take at least 18 months. With that, the Baker Hill Road District worked with the Commission to complete a grant application for funds to complete that study. The study was funded by a $70,000 grant and a $50,000 contribution from the road district. It did not cost the Town of Lanesborough anything, it included public meetings in Town Hall, and it is available to anyone wanting to redevelop the mall property. With that report, the town is now proposing zoning amendments to permit some of the new uses identified in that Re-Use Study. The information from this study has been providing background information for potential use of the mall and has been made available to any potential developers.
Please see our Re-Use Plan page for more information.
History of the
Baker Hill Road District